Bebe Neuwirth: Stories with Piano, #1

Bebe Neuwirth

Stories with Piano, #1

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, August 15, 2018

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Bebe Neuwirth

Story songs, a long-favored providence of cabaret singers, pose a conundrum for audiences. Rich in narrative, these pieces are often approached with character-embodying theatricality. Yet, these same audiences attend hoping to acquaint themselves on a personal level with the spotlighted talent.

Bebe Neuwirth’s newest offering indeed leaves us at odds. She’s sharper than ever, with that idiosyncratic alto deftly matched to appropriate material. And that chilly, hard-boiled zest she brought to Broadway’s Chicago and TV’s Cheers (among others) still rings authentic after all these years, never dissolving into a caricature of herself.  

So why does this piece never come to a boil?

It can’t be blamed on her technical aptitude.
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Pieces like the nostalgic “The Bilbao Song” (Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht) and the haunting “Simply a Waltz” (Norman Wallace) each come to life with dizzying honesty. Her use of movement is economical. And Neuwirth sublimely avoids any sentimentality in either by employing a wistful humor. 

Similarly strong, she cuts loose on “(I’d Like to Get you on a) Slow Boat to China” (Frank Loesser), wagging her tongue and rolling her eyes in coquettish mastery. (Biggest smile of the evening here.) And a pairing of “Pretty Women” (Stephen Sondheim) and “Real Live Girl” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh), a syncopated concoction courtesy of MD Scott Cady, again masterfully tiptoes between amorous love letter and randy vigor. The success of the evening lies in these moments.
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But, even with a cornucopia of colors, these stories require Neuwirth to inhabit them each as a character. And for a talent so associated with a wintry demeanor, this leaves the audience not with an affinity for Neuwirth as a person; but solely for Neuwirth as a talent. And, leaning forward in anticipation of those fleeting moments that she allows the audience a personal connection with her (particularly in one passage of patter about her friendship with director Roger Rees), unfortunately leaves this showing even more frosty than imagined.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.